Wednesday 11 December 2019

Crazy golf makes heroes of major minors

The Ryder Cup comes into the category of 'sport for people who don't really like sport', writes Declan Lynch

I LOVE the Ryder Cup as much as the next man. More, indeed, because for me it's not just a TV spectacular. I also like to have a wager on the outcome, usually on the Americans, for reasons which will soon become clear.

So perhaps I am still feeling the raw emotion of that agonisingly narrow defeat at Celtic Manor when I say that I have just one reservation about this generally superb entertainment, that I have detected a flaw in the rich tapestry of this otherwise magnificent inter-continental battle.

Just one thing, and one thing alone, is wrong with the Ryder Cup -- it is bullshit.

And I'm not just referring here to the deep involvement of the corporate class, those lords of bullshit for whom the Ryder Cup is a a sacred gathering, a holy thing. Nor is the tournament itself to be blamed for the sudden surge of enthusiasm on behalf of disc-jockeys and current affairs presenters and other such trivia-hounds who had apparently never seen a game of golf on TV until last Monday afternoon, but who were elated by Europe's win.

No, Sam Ryder's old trophy can't be blamed for attracting the attention of these undesirables.

And yet it tells us something that we probably don't want to know right now, as we luxuriate in the memory of another nerve-shredding contest. It tells us that the Ryder Cup is a bit like the Grand National, coming into the category of 'sport for people who don't really like sport'.

Which is not a good thing, because the world is already full of 'music for people who don't really like music', and 'books for people who don't really like books', and so forth. Indeed it would appear that these people are the only ones who matter in the marketplace, because, frankly, there's just more of them out there.

And no effort is spared to cater to their needs, by taking out some vital ingredient from the product, to make it more palatable. Usually, it is the best part that is taken out, the very essence.

In golf -- certainly in professional golf -- you're on your own out there. To win one of the four "majors" is a very, very hard thing to do, precisely because you don't have another 11 guys on your side. If you're having an off-day, you don't have a load of your mates scattered around the course, doing it for you.

At the very heart of the game is this idea that you must somehow battle your own demons, that if you hit the ball out of bounds when you're coming down the stretch, if you make just one bad contact or one false move of any kind, you are more or less screwed.

If you miss a three-foot putt, you don't have the luxury of hearing a massive roar from another green, telling you that your mate has holed a 30-footer, so everything is going to be all right.

It is not I who decided that the winning of majors is the true test of a player, it is the golfers themselves who swear by this code. Which helps to explain why the greats such as Tiger and Mickelson and the soon-to-be-great Rory McIlroy can never be true believers in the Ryder Cup. And why so many members of the Europe team, for a long time now, have regarded it as The Grail.

Indeed as he witnessed the scenes of crazed jubilation on the the part of the captain and vice-captains and all belonging to the Europeans, Tiger might have been forgiven a response which went something like this: "They're All Heroes Now".

He would have observed them all showering each other with the finest champagne, men like Sergio Garcia. Dear God, how many majors has Sergio left behind him over the years? There he is now, on the walkie-talkie, the bould Sergio.

And, as Tiger thinks of the four green jackets which he has received for winning the Masters, perhaps he figures that if you could win the green jacket by using the walkie-talkie, then Sergio would have a wardrobe full of them.

And there's Tommy Bjorn, another of the victorious vice-captains, high on the improbability of it all -- Tommy left a few big ones out there too, as did Darren Clarke himself.

Captain Monty, of course, is the spiritual leader of this tribe of men who have had their finest hours in this souped-up version of the game, when they're one of a team of 12, when the margins are just that bit more forgiving. Their soul brother Lee Westwood is still in the thick of it, still in contention for nearly every major that he enters, still constitutionally incapable of winning one of them.

Lee played like God for most of last week, with a sort of Playstation perfection, until the last day when he was drawn against Steve Stricker in the singles.

This was the contest which most resembled the real thing, and suddenly Lee was his usual self, hitting it into the lake, apparently losing all his powers coming down the stretch.

But it didn't matter, because the other guys were able to close the deal - most notably Graeme McDowell, one of Europe's three major champions.

And it is deeply interesting, the way that some men can function on their own, under the most terrible pressure, while others need the consolation of the team. Let us ponder this, and if there are any Latin scholars out there, let them supply a translation of the motto which must surely become the official Ryder Cup crest of Europe: "They're All Heroes Now".

Sunday Independent

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